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Wood-fired Stoves

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Home Improvement
Wood fires are nearly as old as time, but new stoves mean that wood is burned much more efficiently than your original cave-floor fire. In 1990 The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought in strict laws regulating wood fire emissions so now the homeowners hard-earned heating money isnt going up in smoke. Its doing what it was meant to do, heat the home. So be sure to look for the EPA certified stamp on the back of your new stove. The same sticker will tell you the Btu rating or the heat output of that particular stove.

Dont make the mistake of purchasing a stove that is too big for the area you need heated. Frequent damping down creates a creosote build-up that increases the risk of chimney fires. The stove retailer should be able to tell you how much heating you need for the room or total home area that you plan to heat.

There are two types of wood stoves; cats that use catalytic combustors and non-cats that re-circulate the smoke and burn it. A catalytic combustor stove produces a long, slow controlled combustion that burns smoke instead of allowing it to pollute the environment. It needs only a minimum of cleaning and the internal parts should not be touched. They will need replacing about every three years. If smoke pours out of the chimney you need a new combustor pronto.

A non-cat stove uses a heavily insulated firebox to crate needed to more fully burn off smoke and toxins. They also have a secondary combustion chamber to deal with soot particles and gases. Since there is no combustor to maintain, they dont require as much attention as the cats. Both give comparable performances long-term due to the new regulations.

Both stoves should have a body made of cast iron or plate steel at least a 1/4 inch thick. Of the two, cast iron may require slightly more maintenance due to the gaskets and cement used to seal the corners. If the stove is a cat make sure the bypass plate is at least 5/16th of an inch. When closed it should be able to grip a dollar bill tightly. The combustor should be protected from direct flame by some kind of mechanism, or else be located at the back of the stove.

In the non-catalytic stove the baffle is the most critical area. It should be at least 5/16 plate steel with v-shaped support beams to prevent warping. Be sure you use dry wood in a non-cat stove or youll get high emissions. Non-cats have a smaller firebox than cats, which means they may require more frequent loading.

Since a stove is considered to be a major investment and you will hope to get many years of service from it, its a good idea to ask for a third party opinion from a chimney sweep about the brands you like. He will have experience in cleaning various brands and will often know which ones are most trouble free.

Once you have decided on a stove, make sure you have it installed by an expert who will do it to the right specifications. Home-installed stoves tend to cause more fire-damage than they are worth. Have it regularly inspected by the fire department and follow their recommendations and you should get many years of comfy heating from your wood stove.